6 Books to Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

This week, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a great humanitarian, known for his tireless efforts to fight for freedom, equality, and justice for all, and his eloquent words inspired a nation to do the same. 

When I was in school, I looked forward to this day, not because I could learn about this amazing man and the legacy he left on this earth, but because it meant I had the day off from school. I hope to change that for my children. I want them to not only know about Dr. King and what he accomplished in his 39 years of life, but I want them to hear Dr. King’s message of love, freedom, and equality for everyone. I want them to go out into the world and continue Dr. King’s work, to stand up for friends and strangers, and to work to stamp out hate and ignorance. I can think of no better way to begin that difficult work than to learn about a courageous man who chose love over hate, words over fists, and peace over violence. Below, I’ve listed six books that honor Dr. King and his work. I hope you read at least one with your children and start spreading the message of love. 

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.; illus. by Kadir Nelson

If your kiddos are just being introduced to King’s revolutionary work, his August 28, 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington is a great place to start. While the book only incorporates a section of his speech, it still packs a powerful punch for readers. The book begins from King’s now famous words:: “I have a dream.” The text is accompanied by absolutely gorgeous paintings that lovingly illustrate King’s vision for the future. This book is a great jumping off point for beginning those hard discussions of civil rights and race with your children. The full speech is even printed in the back for older readers. {Bonus:: if you decide to purchase a copy, look for one that includes an audio recording of King’s speech.}

We March by Shane W. Evans

This children’s book shows the March on Washington from the perspective of the peaceful marchers. The story begins in the morning, where the participants wake up, just like any other day. But it is not just any other day. On this day, they will make a stand, take a step, towards freedom and equality for everyone. The text is simple enough for even young readers, without taking away from the power behind the message, and the illustrations complement the story beautifully, showing the diversity of those fighting for justice. 

Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport; illus. by Brian Collier

Martin Luther King, Jr. is an oft quoted man, and for good reason. His words are powerful and peaceful; brave and bold; loving and lyrical. And no doubt, his big words helped advance the Civil Rights Movement. This story begins with Martin as a young boy, observing the evils of segregation in his home town and the power of words from his father’s pulpit. The story continues through his 10 years of peaceful protesting and tireless efforts to advance equality for Black people in America. It culminates, sadly, with King’s assassination, but notes that his words, those words of change and love, live on forever. I recommend this one as a read-along with the audio book; the combination of the narrator and music with the beautiful illustrations makes for an emotional reading experience. 

Martin Rising:: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illus. by Brian Pinkney

This moving book of poetry is so beautiful, despite the heavy subject matter. The poems, which cover the last few months of King’s life, are divided into 3 sections:: Daylight, Darkness, and Dawn. Daylight, for the hope that King brings to the Civil Rights Movement, specifically the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike. Darkness, for the evil that racism brings to the world and the tragedy of King’s assassination. And Dawn, for the hope that we still hold for the future, even in the face of darkness. This book is longer, more appropriate for middle school age children or older, but I think this would make an amazing read-aloud for all ages- just consider breaking it up into manageable chunks for younger readers. 

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson; illus. by Frank Morrison

Did you know about the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963? I’ll admit, I did not. When Dr. King came to Birmingham to encourage people to stand up for freedom and equality, the response from many adults was, understandably, “I can’t get fired,” and “I’ll be evicted.” But the children stood up and said they could march for justice because they couldn’t lose their jobs or housing. From May 2 – May 10, 1963, thousands of children marched; from May 2 – May 10, thousands of children were sprayed with hoses, clubbed with batons, and threatened with police dogs. And thousands of children went to jail. 

I cried reading this book. I imagined my children among those children, and I cried for the thousands of courageous boys and girls who felt they had no choice but to subject themselves to that horror, in order to achieve equal rights. This book is a must read. 

Be a King:: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by James E. Ransome

While this book is not specifically about Dr. King, it’s message comes directly from his humanitarian efforts to achieve justice for everyone. 

“You can be a King. Break the chains of ignorance. Learn as much as you can.”

“You can be a King. Stand for peace. Band together against bullies.”

The text is accompanied by pictures that depict events from the Civil Rights Movement, but the timeless words would easily make sense in today’s world with modern illustrations. Children, too, can be inspired and encouraged to make a difference. As Dr. King himself said, 

“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”


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